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  You are in: Home > Theatre & Drama > Supernatural Fiction in Early Modern Drama and Culture  
 

Supernatural Fiction in Early Modern Drama and Culture

Ryan Curtis Friesen

Ryan Curtis Friesen is an Associate Lecturer in English at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. He has written about the supernatural as a literary theme in the fiction of England and the United States. The present book grew from research completed at the University of Leeds.

 
Brings together authors of fiction with philosophers and academics in Early Modern England and compares their ways of describing and understanding the world.
Explores popular culture as well as the culture of the learned and elite.
Examines the intellectual consequences of the Reformation and compares the spiritual and doctrinal practices of the occult to those of orthodoxy.

Magic and the supernatural are common themes in the philosophy and fiction of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Supernatural Fiction in Early Modern Drama and Culture explores varieties of scepticism and belief exhibited by a selection of philosophers and playwrights, including Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, Giordano Bruno, John Dee, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Thomas Middleton, explicating how each author defines the supernatural, whether he assumes magic to operate in the world, and how he uses occult principles to explain what can be known and what is ethical.

Beliefs and claims concerning impossible phenomena and superhuman agency require literary historians to determine whether an occult system of magical operation is being described in a given text. Each chapter in this volume evaluates whether a chosen early modern author is endorsing magic as efficacious or divinely sanctioned, or criticizing it for being fraudulent or unholy. By examining works of fiction, it is possible to explore fantastic settings which were not intended to be synonymous with the early modern audience's everyday experience, settings where magic exists and operates according to the playwrights' designs. This book also sets out to determine what historical sources provided given authors with knowledge of the occult and speculates on how aware an audience would have been of academic, classical, or popular contexts surrounding the text at hand.



INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER ONE:
HEINRICH CORNELIUS AGRIPPA AND SIXTEENTH-CENTURY MAGIC
Definitions of Magic and Its Practices
The Magic of Necromancers
Celestial Influence and Astrological Study
The Occult Power of Words and Numbers
Reason, the Mind, the Soul, and Fate
The Accessories of Magical Practice and The Preservation of Occult Knowledge
The Consistency and Dissonance of Ideas
Religious and Intellectual Heresies and the Sermon of the Sealed Book

CHAPTER TWO:
THE SUPERNATURAL IN GIORDANO BRUNO’S NATURAL PHILOSOPHY
Authority, Authorship, and the Awareness of a Hostile Audience
The Transplantation of Gods and the Inculcation of Ethics
Muscular Epistemology and the Universality of Fortune’s Reach
The Miniscule and the Infinite: Bruno’s Radical Cosmology
The Transmission and Influence of Bruno’s Ideas
Bruno, Human Nature, and Natural Philosophy
Love and Madness, Ptolemy and Copernicus
Intellectual Ascent and the Joys of Being Acteon

CHAPTER THREE:
EARLY MODERN ENGLAND’S BELIEF IN FICTIONAL WITCHCRAFT
The Common Fictions of Witchcraft
Reconstructing the Typical Witch
Challenges to the Notion of a ‘Typical’ Witch
The Witch’s Pact and the Witch’s Pet
The Machinery of Justice and Its Discontents

CHAPTER FOUR:
FICTIONS OF ALCHEMY AND ANGELIC COMMUNICATION IN THE CAREER OF JOHN DEE
Dee as Elizabethan Scholar
Dee as Occult Scholar
The Critical Difference Between Fictional Sorcerers and a Sorcerer Who Merely Lies
Languages Angelic and Artificial
Confronting the Lie in Dee’s Testimony

CHAPTER FIVE:
THE CONFUSION OF RELIGIOUS AND MAGICAL FICTION IN MARLOWE’S DOCTOR FAUSTUS
Necromancy as Symptom, Not Cause, of Faustus’ Damnation
Faustus’ Neglected Study of Nature and the Supernatural
The Growth of Faustus’ Character and the Restraint of Hell’s Magic
Faustus’ Preference for a Familiar Hell over an Amiable Soul

CHAPTER SIX:
MADNESS AND DAMNATION: THE CONSEQUENCES OF
MACBETH’S MAGIC
Critical Representations of Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters
The Principles of Hecate’s Leadership and the Seduction of Macbeth
The Conditions of Macbeth’s Damnation
The Doctor of Physic and the Failure of Rational Epistemology

CHAPTER SEVEN:
WITCHCRAFT, POLITICAL SCANDAL, AND THE THEATRICAL MOMENT OF MIDDLETON’S THE WITCH
Adultery, Murder, and Other Clues for Dating The Witch
Witchcraft and Gender Policy on Middleton’s Stage
Belief in the Operations of Cunning Folk
The Witch’s Craft as Metaphor for Courtly Duplicity and Malice
Political Misrule and Love Charms Overruled by Villainous Ambition

CHAPTER EIGHT:
ALCHEMY AND WITCHCRAFT IN THE DRAMA OF BEN JONSON
The Feigned Alchemy of Subtle, Face, and Dol
Jonson’s Attitude Toward the Occult and the Irrational
Occult Practice as the Violation, or Merely the Acceleration, of Nature
Sources of Authority and Authority’s Collapse in The Alchemist
Alchemy, Nature, and the Spirit as a Character in Mercury Vindicated
The Witch as a Negative Exemplar; Witchcraft as a Vice

CHAPTER NINE:
MAGIC IN THE TEMPEST: SHAKESPEARE’S CRITIQUE OF
ROUGH ART AND HARSH REASON
Traditions of Magic and Prospero's Motives
Prospero as Teacher, Father, Learner
Prospero’s Anger as a Symptom of Necessary Rule
Medea as Sycorax, Prospero as Medea
Ariel as Magic Dramatised
Caliban as the Test of Prospero’s Government

BIBLIOGRAPHY

“The volume exemplifies new-historicist interpretive practice at its best. Dr. Friesen’s treatment of the occult and its place in early modern culture is simply brilliant and his particular analyses of how cultural discourses on the occult impact and are impacted by aesthetic form in plays by Marlowe, Shakespeare, Middleton and Ben Jonson, are thoroughly illuminating. Though this volume is very erudite, the exegeses are not unduly burdened by erudition. Supernatural Fiction will be appealing not only to students and scholars in English, but to everyone who is interested in the occult and its discursive function in a society.” Lalita P. Hogan, author of Comparative Poetics: Non-Western Traditions of Literary Theory (1996)

“The distinction made between Magic and the Supernatural in philosophy and in drama of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is well argued and convincing. Indeed, the philosophers’ approach is often quite ‘dramatic’ and playwrights indulge in supernatural philosophies. In exploring the varieties of scepticism and belief of Agrippa, Bruno, Dee, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson and Middleton, Friesen’s comparative research clearly shows the various modes in which they define the supernatural and how they use it, rhetorically and ethically.” Shimon Levy, dramaturg for the Habimah Theatre and Jerusalem Khan Theatre, and author of The Bible as Theatre and Samuel Beckett’s Self-Referential Drama

“Ryan Friesen’s Supernatural Fiction in Early Modern Drama and Culture shrewdly engages the topic of early modern magic as it shapes and takes shape in a series of representations both nonfictional (in Cornelius Agrippa, John Dee, Giordano Bruno) and fictional (in Shakespeare, Marlowe, Middleton, and Jonson). Friesen examines the popular appeal magic and necromancy held upon the early modern stage, exploring the political and theological implications it offered as a subversive methodology and as a dramatically useful thematic tool. In doing so, Friesen offers a wealth of interesting readings on works that remain central to English Renaissance drama.” David Houston Wood, Northern Michigan University, author of Time, Narrative, and Emotion in Early Modern England

“Acts of magical efficacy were no more possible then than now, says Friesen, so the reports of them can be analyzed not with science but with literary analysis and critical reading. Among his examples are Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, Giordano Bruno’s natural philosophy, fictional witchcraft, alchemy and angelic communication in the career of John Dee, confusing religious and magical fiction in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, Middleton’s The Witch, Ben Jonson’s drama, and the critique of rough art and harsh reason in The Tempest.” Reference & Research Book News

“Friesen offers an incredibly well-written introduction to the supernatural in the early modern era (1510–1625). His presentation begins with purportedly non-fiction works, starting with a discussion of Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, moving onto Bruno’s work, then presenting the sixteenth-century pamphlets on witch trials, and offering commentary on Dee’s angelic interpretations. The second half of the book looks at magic within Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Middleton’s The Witch, multiple of Jonson’s dramas, and Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

The book presents a fascinating discussion of the witch trials and the actuality of witches, mentioning that most of those tried as witches in the sixteenth century were married women, while about fifteen percent were men. Friesen compares this to the modern stereotype of witches as old crones. He also discusses the number of admitted witches, presenting various scholarly arguments focusing on the idea that these confessions were a means of creating agency for the accused.

As Friesen moves into the unarguably fictional texts, the discussion of magic adds a measure of literary analysis. The themes, archetypes, and characterizations of both magic and magic users are described, analyzed, and contextualized. For example, in the final chapter Friesen presents scholarly arguments about Prospero’s magic. He gives the main lines of argument and then evaluates the play according to his reading of Prospero’s use and renunciation of magic, presenting Ariel as dramatized magic and Caliban as the inheritor of a wholly negative rough magic who eventually becomes responsible for himself.

The book provides a fascinating glimpse into the early modern view of magic, through historical and philosophical treatises, pamphlets, diaries and transcriptions of séances, and contemporary dramas. The variety of texts examined makes this work particularly intriguing.” Southwest Journal of Cultures

 

Publication Details

 
Hardback ISBN:
978-1-84519-329-4
 
 
Page Extent / Format:
256 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
 
Release Date:
November 2009
  Illustrated:   No
 
Hardback Price:
£49.95 / $74.95
 
 

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